Former 49ers linebacker and KNBR analysis and color commentator Gary Plummer is back again this year with his Points of the Game, a weekly online column that previews the upcoming opponent. Check out some of his views on Sunday's home game against the New York Jets. *
After losing last week 34-17 at home, the New York Jets will be going back to the drawing board to figure out what went wrong against the Denver Broncos. *
Part of the problem for the Jets defense is that their linebackers are better suited as pass-rushers than dropping into coverage. But even the pass rush has recently become anemic. After notching 29 sacks in their first eight games, the Jets have added only six in their last four games.
A reason for that is because David Harris has been hurt and has missed the last five games. He's supposed to be back for the 49ers game, and he's excellent at blitzing. During his absence, the Jets have struggled to get to the quarterback with Shaun Ellis, Calvin Pace, and Brian Thomas combining for only two sacks. And that's their two outside backers and their rushing defensive end, who you would expect to get to the quarterback.
One of the things opposing teams have been able to do against the Jets is throw the football. They're 30th in the NFL against the pass, and so, teams are spreading them out and putting their quarterback in the shotgun. I expect the 49ers to take advantage of those things as well.
In the secondary, they've had a lot of injuries this year. Kerry Rhodes is their best player in the secondary and he's been in there all the time at safety. But at the other safety position, Abram Elam hasn't played particularly well. Eric Smith was the starter before he got injured, and there's a chance he might return this Sunday.
Blitzing has made them vulnerable in man-to-man coverage. Veteran cornerback Ty Law has been playing more now after joining the team mid-season. Law, who has been a Pro Bowler, is in his 14th year. He's more of a zone coverage guy at this point of his career. They do have a pretty good looking young cornerback in Darrelle Revis, but they haven't been able to find the right combination in the secondary. They've used at least eight different guys in the secondary and none of the combinations have worked out for them. It'll be a great matchup to watch if Law is guarding Isaac Bruce. Both are in their 14th year and have been around the game forever.
One of the other reasons that the Jets have been thrown against so often is because they have one of the better run defenses in the NFL. All of their guys up front, starting with defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, are huge. On the outside, they have Calvin Pace, who is 6-4, 270-pounds. Opposite him at outside backer is Brian Thomas, who is listed at 6-4, 266-pounds. So when you play teams with guys who are that big, they're normally not as effective in zone coverages, but they're also definitely not as effective in man-to-man coverage.
For the 49ers offense, I think Frank Gore can be used more in the passing game this week. With Jenkins playing at a high level, the 49ers can't expect a heavy dose of running the ball. But in the passing attack, Gore can run circles around the Jets outside linebackers. If the 49ers can get him matched up with an outside linebacker, that's an advantage all the way for the 49ers.
Another advantage against those big outside guys could be Vernon Davis. Most teams have tried to split those linebackers out and make the Jets play those big 6-foot-4 guys play in space. And they don't play well in open space. To me, it seems pretty simple that you would split out Davis and use him in the passing game this week.
On the offensive side of the ball for the Jets, it all starts with Brett Favre. He still has great arm strength. Recently, critics have been saying that he doesn't throw down the field anymore. Well, part of the reason for that is because his wide receivers don't have great downfield speed. Both Lavarnues Coles and Jericho Cotchery have good speed, but they don't have great speed.
Plus the Jets have been more effective running the football. Thomas Jones is averaging 4.7 yards per carry, and he's already over the 1,000-yard mark. He's really having a great year. He's a guy who likes to hammer the football, and he has a career-high eleven touchdowns already.
Their offensive line is very dominant. They already had two first-rounders in place in center Nick Mangold and tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, and then added a Pro Bowl guard in Alan Faneca and a long-time veteran in Damien Woody. If they have a weakness on the line, it's their right guard Brandon Moore, but from my estimation, it's one of the better offensive lines that the 49ers will face this year.
The Jets aren't asking Favre to be the gunslinger like in his days with the Green Bay Packers. Instead, their offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and head coach Eric Mangini have added a lot of West Coast principles that weren't in their offense before Favre joined the team.
Now they're running an awful lot of the quick slants and it's a lot of dink and dunk.
A telling stat is that the Jets are in the top three of the NFL in terms of number of drives over ten plays. They like to take what the defense gives them. They'll go for longer drives and not for that big play over the top.
That kind of plays into the 49ers hands. If you look at what has happened to the 49ers, they've been very solid against the run all year, until last week against Marshawn Lynch. But what they did very well in last week was not allowing the big play. The 49ers rank in the top five in the NFL in red zone defense, so I could totally see the 49ers taking away the Jets wideouts and saying, "Thomas Jones, let's see what you have."
One matchup to watch is Joe Staley on Leon Washington, who is a threat out of the backfield. They like to run a lot of screens with him and find ways to get him the ball in open space, but that's something Willis has handled very well.
Jets rookie tight end Dustin Keller has stepped up big time in the last few weeks, including seven catches against the Broncos for 77 yards. He has more catches than anyone on the team in the last five games, and when you look at the most successful years that Favre had in Green Bay, the tight end was always a big factor. So, Keller is definitely a player who the 49ers have to account for.
On special teams, average drive start is important. And like the Bills last week, the Jets have a solid return game. Leon Washington is second in the NFL with a 28-yard kickoff return average, and his punt return average of 11.5-yards is top ten in the league. He's a guy who isn't afraid to slam his body in traffic. A lot of guys will dance and look for the home run, but Washington tries to get as much as he can. He's been able to hit the home run once this season already with a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, and he's going to be a big concern for the 49ers.
For the 49ers, they need to figure out who will be returning punts. It's tough potentially not having that weapon in Allen Rossum, but the most important thing is for the 49ers to get someone capable of securing the football. If Arnaz Battle and Nate Clements aren't able to fill-in, that's definitely a concern for the 49ers. Personally, I would feel most comfortable with Isaac Bruce back there. Nothing will rattle a guy who has played the game as long as he has. You're not looking for any big returns; you're just looking for someone who can fair-catch it every time.
In terms of overall keys to the game, the 49ers have been very good at starting fast since Mike Singletary has taken over. And they're going to have to do it again. The Jets are the second best team in the NFL in first quarter points with 78 on the year. I really think that is important to not allow them a lead because it plays right into the hands of what they like to do. If you're ahead in the game, then obviously you can run the ball an awful lot, which opens up a lot of things in the passing game for Favre.
I think the Jets kind of have a split personality. They dominated the then-undefeated Tennessee Titans on the road. They beat the New England Patriots in overtime on the road. But while they had two fantastic performances in those statement games, they've played poorly against some below average ball clubs. They've come to the West Coast twice, losing both times to the Oakland Raiders and to the San Diego Chargers. And they almost lost to the Kansas City Chiefs, who might be one of the worst teams in the NFL. It really has been a tough team to predict how they'll perform.